|by Peter Sobczynski
Although I have made it my life’s work to study all aspects of the world of cinema–the business and historic sides as well as the artistic–there are plenty of things that I simply don’t understand. If I had to compose a list of my greatest unanswered questions, I suspect that close to the top would be the simple query, “Why didn’t Barbara Hershey become one of the biggest stars in the world?” After all, she’s a gifted actress–adept at both comedy and drama–smart, gorgeous and has largely dedicated her career to working with unique filmmakers (including the likes of Martin Scorsese, Philip Kaufman, Jane Campion, Richard Rush, Alan Rudolph and Woody Allen). In fact, her mere presence in a film is usually a pretty good indicator that, good or bad, it should at least be reasonably interesting. And yet, she has never become more than a beloved cult actress and I suspect that if any of you out there picked up on her name immediately, it was probably because of her appearance in “Beaches,” one of her least-interesting films—and, perhaps not coincidentally, one of her biggest hits.
I bring her up because this week sees the DVD release of “The Entity,” a 1983 horror film that contains, in my opinion, the single greatest performance of her career. In the film, supposedly based on a true story that was later recounted in a best-seller by Frank DeFelitta, she plays an ordinary, middle-class single mother who finds herself on the receiving end of a series of brutal sexual assaults that appear to be caused by some kind of unseen apparition. No one–neither her family nor a team of psychiatrists–believe her claims and suspect that she is either going crazy or reliving some dark traumas from her own childhood. The attacks grow in number and intensity and, at wits end, she joins up with a team of parapsychologists for a plan in which she will hopefully seduce and capture the being to prove that it actually exists.
This is, to be sure, awesomely tasteless material for a film (complete with naked bodies being fondled by unseen hands) and the ham-fisted direction from erstwhile hack Sidney J. Furie doesn’t really do much to help matters (especially the ludicrous sound effects deployed during the rape scenes). And yet, “The Entity” transcends its sleazoid surroundings and somehow becomes a genuinely powerful and gripping horror film and it is due almost entirely to Hershey’s performance. This is a particularly tricky part because not only does it require an actress fearless enough to perform in potentially embarrassing scenes, it is the kind of role where even the slightest misstep has the potential to utterly destroy the mood. Hershey never steps wrong and comes up with the kind of performance that would have been worthy of a Best Actress Oscar if it had been properly promoted and reviewed instead of being dismissed as just another crappy horror film. Watching this film again, especially in the wake of such horrible horrors as the recent remakes of “The Amityville Horror” and “House of Wax,” is a timely reminder that great acting can sometimes be found in the most unlikely of places.
Written by Frank De Felitta. Directed by Sidney J. Furie. Starring Barbara Hershey, Ron Silver, David Labiosa, George Coe and Alex Rocco. 1983. 125 minutes. Rated R. An Anchor Bay Home Entertainment release. $19.95.
NEW AND NOTABLE
AMERICAN DREAMER (Paramount Home Video. $14.95): Using the same delicate touch that he brought to his previous film, “Halloween II” and the Sean Penn-starring “Bad Boys,” director Rick Rosenthal made this ham-fisted and incredibly derivative 1984 effort about a desperate housewife ( JoBeth Williams) who wins a trip to Paris in a mystery-writing contest and becomes involved in international intrigue after a bum on the head causes her to believe that she is her favorite book heroine. I wouldn’t even mention it here except for the fact that my beloved mother, in an unaccountable lapse of good taste, thinks it is pretty good–since it is Mother’s Day, I’ll defer to her on this one.
THE BIG RED ONE: THE RECONSTRUCTION (Warner Home Video. $29.95): One of last year’s happiest bits of news for film fanatics was this expanded version of Sam Fuller’s 1980 WW II epic, reconstructed by critic Richard Schickel from recently discovered vault material and Fuller’s original shooting script. This 2-disc set contains the mostly complete 162-minute edition, along with such extras as a commentary and documentaries discussing the history of the film and its restoration as well as an impressive additional documentary on the strange and fascinating life and career of Fuller himself.
FIFTEEN AND PREGNANT (MPI Media Guide. $9.98): Not an After School Special, but mighty close. Kirsten Dunst plays the title role, thereby satisfying someone’s fetish.
KING OF THE HILL: THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON (Fox Home Entertainment. $39.98): Although it rarely gets acknowledged as such, this has been one of the most consistently entertaining shows–animated or otherwise–on television in the last few years and this set collects the 22 episodes from what remains its best season to date. Worth the purchase price just for the Tennesee Williams-inspired episode that somehow managed to find room for funny guest spots from the likes of Meryl Streep, Don Meredith and the Dixie Chicks.
LICENSE TO DRIVE (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $19.98): Who would have guessed when this came out in 1988 that among the stars of this all-Corey extravaganza, it would be the cute blonde, Heather Graham, who would be the only one who still had a career 17 years down the line?
MICROCOSMOS (Buena Vista Home Video. $19.98): Bugs! Bugs! They’re everywhere! Bugs!
NATIONAL TREASURE (Buena Vista Home Video. $29.98): I can’t decide what part of this surprise hit was more implausible–the notion that our Founding Fathers his clues to an enormous fortune in our currency, the Liberty Bell and the Declaration of Independence or the notion that Harvey Keitel would be allowed to join the Freemasons.
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (Warner Home Video. $29.95): Rather than rake this monstrosity over the coals one more time, I shall offer only this couplet from Roger Waters.
“We cower in our shelters
With our hands over our ears
Lloyd-Webber’s awful stuff
Runs for years and years and years
An earthquake hits the theatre
But the operetta lingers
Then the piano lid comes down
And breaks his fucking fingers
It’s a miracle”
SPACEBALLS: COLLECTOR’S EDITION (MGM Home Entertainment. $29.98): “What are you, Col. Sandurz–chicken?”
link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=1468
originally posted: 05/06/05 13:45:47
last updated: 05/06/05 14:35:38